What is Spiritual Maintenance?

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Engineers will have a big tool.As is often stated in the rooms of recovery, we are granted a daily reprieve [from our addiction] based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. But what does that mean? As I learned in years spent developing software for oil refineries, maintenance can take one of two forms: preventive and “oh-crap- it’s-broken.”

Refineries are interconnected systems with many dependencies. The failure of one pump or a leak in one pipe can bring the whole of the system to a standstill. Unplanned outages can cost the operator millions of dollars a day.

A dedicated team of inspectors and maintenance men and women are tasked with avoiding “oh-crap- it’s-broken” moments because of the cost of outages and, more importantly, the fact the accidents can cost lives. It’s not overly dramatic to point out that the lack of spiritual maintenance can cost lives as well.

In refineries, as in sobriety, the key is to fix things before they completely fail. Within a refinery, daily readings and measurements are taken to assess the condition of equipment. If, for example, the wall of a section of pipe is found to be thinning, replacement is slated for the next scheduled downtime. Detailed records of the hours of usage on a piece of equipment like a pump is noted to plan what preventive steps can be taken to avoid an unplanned outage. X-rays and ultrasounds are regularly taken to assess equipment health

When it comes to my sobriety and sanity (I am a bipolar alcoholic after all) I can ill afford “oh-crap” moments. There is no guarantee that if I slip and drink again I won’t die before getting things fixed. And my last bout of bipolar mania put me in jail. No, preventive maintenance is the wiser course.

As with maintenance at refineries, spiritual maintenance is a daily exercise. I can ill afford to hit meeting once in a while or swing by a church building or meditation room every now and then and consider myself good.

Regular meeting attendance is a must and each day I need to get quiet and look within. In a quiet, unhurried state I need to ask myself if I’ve been dishonest, resentful or fearful? Do I owe an amends? Am I seeking to align my will with Divine will? Do I contemplate and try to draw closer to that which I consider Divine? Am I regularly looking to be of service to others?

At refineries, inspectors ask a variety of questions as well–but not in isolation. Results are fed into computer systems and teams collaborate to review findings. In sobriety I need to remember to run my assessments by others as well–trusted friends, my spouse or, most importantly, my sponsor.

Of all my faults, and they are myriad, remembering to pass my assessment of my spiritual condition by others tops the list. I inventory regularly but there are times when I keep what I find private. I’ve heard many a times in the rooms of recovery that “our secrets keep us sick.” Though this statement applies to character defects and past misdeeds, it applies equally as well to our daily inventories.

I couldn’t get sober when I isolated. Why would I think to maintain my spiritual fitness in isolation?

I can’t skimp on my daily practices. I’m reminded of a maintenance manager at a facility in Southern California years ago who thought it too costly to take x-rays and ultrasounds of pipe walls. Instead, he’d walk the facility, ballpeen hammer in hand, tapping on pipes. Like a shopper thumping on watermelon he relied on his sense of hearing to detect any anomalies.

Only one problem with this half-assed approach, he once thumped a pipe that had deteriorated significantly. The hammer broke through the wall of the pipe and combustible petroleum burst forth. There was an ignition source nearby. The resulting explosions took several lives. The refinery manager was spared and had to live with his folly.

No, half measures avail me nothing. The recovery rate for the co-occurring disorders of addiction and mental illness are abysmal. My life depends upon being fully committed to daily maintenance.

What a blessing this is. My life depends upon living life like a decent human being.

For years I wallowed in self-centered fear. There was an overwhelming dissonance between who I wanted to be and how I was living. I had children but was not a parent. Married but far from being a husband. My fears took the form of every imaginable character defect from anger to sloth. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.

At times I put the bottle down. But without a program of spiritual maintenance, sober didn’t feel too good. I spent years convinced I would die an alcoholic death and prayed regularly for release from this mortal coil.

When I finally got sober it was recommended that I stick with the winners–that is, stick with people with long-term sobriety that lived fulfilling, happy lives. In the fourteen years were I tried, but failed, to get sober I normally either isolated at meetings or only hung out only with newcomers that were struggling as much as I was. Not a recipe for success.

This time I prayed to overcome my shyness and seek out the company of people with long-term sobriety. When they spoke, I listened.

The people I met up with didn’t preach. They shared stories, personal stories, about how they navigated this thing called life. Unlike some that you find in the rooms, they didn’t pretend that life was perfect. They shared about their ups and downs. They shared about overcoming challenges life threw their way.

At their essence, their stories were real life stories of spiritual maintenance. They got angry, but then inventoried their resentments and shared it with their sponsors. They got fearful, but then inventoried and shared those fears.

Over months and years I noted two types of people in the rooms–those who regularly attended and shared about their daily maintenance and those that only popped in once in a great while whilst in the midst of an “oh-crap-life’s-broken” moment. So far, I’ve opted to be classed with the former.

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  1. Self esteem is a carciul component of recovery. Many addicts began using substances because they believed that they could never fit in with their peers, or felt unloved or rejected by family members. The 12 Steps of AA offer a blueprint for improved self-esteem; helping us identify and acknowledge our character defects and trust in a higher power to empower us to become the people that we want to be. Therapy is also helpful as we explore how these character defects have functioned as defense mechanisms against pain that we don’t know how to handle. Northbound Academy is a unique long term program which offers a year to live the 12 Steps with therapeutic support. This coupled with daily opportunities to succeed at life can form the basis of a healthy and sober self-esteem.

  2. Lori Hurley says:

    Wow! That was a great read and thank you! I’d love to follow your blog!

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